29 January 2007

WAR! What Is It Good For!

The latest reported casualty of the never-ending drug war comes from Jacksonville, Florida where an 80 year old man was killed by undercover police. Seems that he took offense to their stationing themselves in his yard, and took a pistol with him to tell them to move along.

The investigation is ongoing, but this type of story is getting all too common. We hear all about the carnage in Iraq, but we ignore the body count of a truly useless "war" here at home.

How long do we allow the "security for freedom" mindset blind us to the fact that we have (and deserve) neither? How many of our essential liberties and our very lives do we sacrifice on this altar?

This is only the domestic cost. This doesn't even begin to address the foreign policy issues.

The Libertarians have long sought an end to the War on Drugs, but even they approach it from the wrong angle. They postulate that adults should be free to ingest any substance they choose.

Don't get me wrong, I think that drug use is a stupid waste, and only pathetic losers use drugs. Be that as it may, I think that the various forfeiture laws and the increasing use of "no knock" warrants are worse than the drug problem itself.

The only correct approach to the elimination of the drug war is to point out the toll it has taken on our Constitutional rights, especially as enumerated in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Additionally, there are studies done by various think tanks that show treatment of addicts to be far more effective and cheaper than busting dealers on the streets or trying (and failing) to prevent the entry of drugs into our borders. It's a simple supply and demand scenario, one that any Economics 101 student should be able to understand.

The sickness may not kill us, but the cure is doing a bang up job.

25 January 2007

A Blog About Nothing

Too often I get so wound up in pertinence, the desire to write something earth-shaking, that I forget the purpose of this humble little blog is not to change the world, but just remember my little corner of it. Oftentimes I will go for a week or more because I can't think of anything relevant to write about. Kind of like right now.

I'm sure that exciting and important things are occurring even as we speak, not only in my little corner of North Carolina, but in the world at large. Such things are no doubt being covered in other blogs and news stories in media both large and small by persons of greater importance than I. Let them carry the water, so to speak, and if I see something that catches my interest be sure that I will say something.

The biggest thing on my mind right now though is when can I get my adult children back out of my house so I can reclaim my train room, and more importantly, once claimed what will I do with it. Right now my layout is on a 4ft by 8ft table, which to some might seem big enough. The model railroaders reading this will agree that there is no such thing as "enough" real estate.

My plans are to construct benchwork around the perimeter of the room with an "island" off of one side, making an E shape. My problem is how much room to dedicate to standard gauge N scale and how much to dedicate to narrow gauge N scale.

I got into the narrow gauge N scale (Nn3) scene innocently enough I suppose, I have been a fan of the East Broad Top for many years now and a train enthusiast for longer than that. I started collecting N scale when I was in the Navy because I could set it up on a board and slide it under the bed in my barracks room. It didn't take much space, and was easily dismantled and stored when I was deployed.

I didn't collect much at first. A Bachmann starter set, the Jupiter 4-4-0 and freight train because I had the same set in HO as a boy. Before I knew it I had a Prairie Flyer set, another 4-4-0 but this one with passenger cars. One day I took the big step - an MRC throttle with pulse control. Really made the 4-4-0's perform. Then came the Long Hauler (now it's called the Explorer) with it's twin F-9 diesels, the Empire Builder with it's big 4-8-4 Northern locomotive, and not long after that, much to my shame, a locomotive by itself, not as a part of a set. Another Northern, in Union Pacific livery, with the Vandy tender and gray paint.

I didn't realize then that the Bachmann sets, even though they looked innocent, were gateway sets. Pretty soon I knew I had a real problem. I started collecting big steam, then Spectrums, then I got into the high dollar stuff. MicroTrains cars, Atlas locomotives, you know, the big stuff. Before you know it I was buying stuff off of Ebay and sneaking it into the house behind my wife's back. I even started detailing my locomotives, and repowering them with gearmotors.

That's not the worst of it though. The worst of it was when I saw Z scale and realized that it was about 3/4ths the size of N. Since narrow gauge is 3/4ths the size of standard, more or less, it stood to reason that I could use Z scale locomotives to build my beloved East Broad Top.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I wasn't the first to think of it! This only made the problem worse, because now instead of having to scratch-build everything I could get kits! If I had been forced to scratch build, I would have had to go a bit slower. Since I could get kits I could dive in headfirst.

Once again I started out small. A converted Bachmann 4-4-0. Then a scratchbuilt Mogul on a Marklin chassis. A narrowed Bachmann combine. A Republic Locomotive Works flatcar. A MicroTrains boxcar. Two feet of dual gauge track from JHM.

Then I got into it big time. I found out from the Ntrak books that a Bachmann 0-6-0 switcher shell fit nicely onto a Marklin 2-8-2 chassis and made a dandy Mikado that almost looked like an East Broad Top locomotive. Before you know it I had built combines and passenger cars from MDC and Bachmann standard gaugers, I had built an EBT boxcar and caboose from RLW kits, then some hoppers, then an honest-to-goodness EBT Mikado kit. Marklin turnouts from Ebay (expensive and JUNK) and Peco flextrack make a double-loop roundy round on a 3x5 board with two dead end sidings, and MicroTrain's new sectional track serves nicely for a test track.

Now I want some jigs so I can hand-build turnouts in narrow, standard and dual gauge. The narrow and standard run about 1 C-note a pop, the dual gauge is one and a half per (two required), so it will take some fast talking to convince the wife that I need them.

I kept telling myself that it was no big deal, that I could quit any time I wanted to, but even then I knew I was only deceiving myself. Now it's time for me to admit it, to myself at least.

I am The Scoundrel, and I'm a train junkie.

I even bring trains to work now to fiddle with between service calls. My co-worker expressed an interest in them until I told him how much I had paid for the Mikado ($100 for the used Marklin mechanism, another $100 for the kit, not including trucks and couplers).

He's going to stick to guns.

23 January 2007

Watchers Council

It's time again to submit another post to the Watcher of Weasels. Last time didn't go so well, but in my own opinion the article submitted was pretty weak. As I said, I had not written anything I thought was Watcher material. But, as Bullwinkle says, this time for sure!

As you may or may not already be aware, members of the Watcher's Council hold a vote every week on what they consider to be the most link-worthy pieces of writing around... per the Watcher's instructions, I am submitting one of my own posts for consideration in the upcoming nominations process.

Here is the most recent winning council post, here is the most recent winning non-council post, here is the list of results for the latest vote, and here is the initial posting of all the nominees that were voted on.

Submitted for your approval, America the Beautiful.

UPDATE: It's official. I suck. I'm going home now.

21 January 2007

Sandy Shakespeare

Under the heading of "Damn, I wish I had written that!" is a post from Teflon Don, a Combat Engineer with the United States Army, on his blog Acute Politics:

"I am a shameless romantic, a slightly better than average student of history, and there is a current of idealism under my skin that has not yet been dulled by reality. Sometimes, these qualities come together and leave me thinking to myself of times long gone and stories all but forgotten. Lately, I've been thinking of the paradoxical enormity and insignificance of my presence here."

What kills me is the tagline:

"I walk softly, for I tread on the ghosts of years."

James Wolcott doesn't appreciate aptitude when he sees it, but he's a no-talent hack that's managed to weasel his way into a writing job. He just wishes he was half this good.

I stand in the presence of greatness, a wordsmith of rare ability. I stand humbled, in awe.

Even if he is Army. No one is perfect.

Keep your head down TD, this old Navy guy is praying for you.

20 January 2007

High Crimes And Misdemeanors

Good things always come in threes.

One, if you are employed as a weather guesser, one of your colleagues would like to ensure that you don't stray from the plantation. The Weather Channel's Heidi Cullen, Climate Expert, would like to see all weather guessers that don't toe the "Climate Change Is Caused By Evil Mankind" party line de-certified by the American Meteorological Society. That would be, I guess, most of you. Hat tip to Neal Boortz for the story and links. Like the man says, follow the money.

Two, for those of you still living in LaLaLand (otherwise known as California), spare the rod or face jail time and hefty fines. A bill introduced to the California legislature by Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View, would outlaw spanking as a means of punishment to children 3 and below. In my view, if the government is going to strip parents of their authority, how long will it be before they are relieved of their responsibility as well?

Ms Lieber states that the purpose of the bill is not for "mommy government" to tell parents what they can and can't do, but rather to codify the rights of toddlers. I had exactly two rights when I was a toddler, the right to sit down and the right to shut up. Or as my mother so succinctly put it, "children should be seen and not heard."

Three, from links supplied by James, Arizona lawmaker Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, has introduced legislation into that state to outlaw any civilian groups, such as the Minutemen, that dare to band together to detect illegal activity. The law, HB2286, would add "domestic terrorism" to it's list of activities prohibited under smuggling and organized crime laws. Domestic terrorism, according to the new bill, would be defined thusly:

"A. An individual or group of individuals commits domestic terrorism if the individual or group of individuals are not affiliated with a local, state or federal law enforcement entity and associate with another individual or group of individuals as an organization, group, corporation or company for the purpose of patrolling to detect alleged illegal activity or to individually patrol for the purpose of detecting alleged illegal activity and if the individual or group of individuals is armed with a firearm or other weapon."

(B. and C. omitted, they weren't important for this discussion anyway.)

"D. A violation of this section is a class 5 felony."

So not only the Minutemen, but also, perhaps, Neighborhood Watch? And woe be unto you, Arizona ranchers on the border, if you and the boys decide to go out and catch the rustlers that are stealing your stock! Such an attempt to secure your own property could be deemed a class 5 felony.

Take note that the bill specifies "armed with a firearm or other weapon." That 5 D cell MagLite that you are carrying as part of your neighborhood watch makes a dandy weapon. The bill also specifies "individual or group of individuals" and further states that said individual may be part of a group of like-minded individuals or may "individually patrol for the purpose of detecting alleged illegal activity", so in a pinch you may be subject if you are patrolling your own house with a firearm to investigate the sound of smashing glass in the middle of the night.

Maybe not, but then again the original law is being used to charge those who pay coyotes as well as the coyotes themselves. "None of us every dreamed it would be used in a co-conspirator fashion," Sinema said. And defense attorneys will try anything. What's especially galling is that Sinema acknowledges that the law is being used in unexpected ways, and wants to add more to it!

A coyote in this context is someone who is paid to sneak illegals across the border.

A Concurrent Resolution co-sponsored by Sinema, HCR 2011, would make Arizona a sanctuary state, or in the language of the bill, a "safety zone", "where all persons are treated equally, with respect and dignity, regardless of immigration status."

The same resolution resolves "That the Members of the Legislature express their desire that the United States government, on adoption of sensible and comprehensive immigration reforms, begin effective enforcement of federal immigration laws at the federal level so that Arizona is not forced to shoulder the costs of enforcing federal immigration laws."

Excuse me, but doesn't one negate the other? Current "federal immigration laws" would render the "safety zone" a violation of Federal immigration law, wouldn't it? Make up your mind here, do you want a "safety zone", or do you want the United States Government to enforce "federal immigration laws"?

I for one would like to see the current law actually enforced. That would indicate that the laws are actually laws, and not merely suggestions. But I'm funny like that.

Not enough criminals? Use the law to make more. No matter that the real criminals, the ones doing actual harm, are deucedly difficult to catch and prosecute, we will go after the normally law-abiding since they are easier to find and prosecute.

I'm hoping that California and Arizona defeat their respective lunacy laws, but if it's being introduced how long before it catches on?

18 January 2007

I'll Sue!

This morning I have received two presents, the first is a light blanket of snow that has shut down the local schools (meaning I didn't have to get the kids off to school this morning) and the second was an Email of the TRUE Stella Awards.

The Stella Awards is a free subscription, and there is a sister publication called This Is True which is also free but offers a Premium subscription as well. Much to my shame I'm not a Premium subscriber, but I do have the Get Out Of Hell Free card, so that's got to be good for something.

Standard disclaimer here, I have no financial arrangement with Randy Cassingham, author of both Stella Awards and This Is True mailings. I just really like the stories.

The Stella Awards, for those of you not familiar with them, are true accounts of outrageous lawsuits filed in courts by people seeking to escape the consequences of their own actions or to get money they don't deserve. It is named for the woman that successfully sued McDonald's because the coffee cup didn't warn her that the contents were hot, so it may not be a good idea to wedge it between your thighs and pull the top off of it to put in the cream and sugar.

The reason I bring them up is because of a comment included in this issue from a man in the Netherlands who worries that this type of insanity will make it across the pond. He asks "Who wants to live in such a society?"

Good question. I know I don't. But today's society is extremely litigious, and the practice of paying off out of court to avoid the legal costs just encourages those who simply want a payday or to shake down large corporations. Lawyer turned talk radio host Neal Boortz has what I agree is the answer, loser pays. He talks about it a bit here.

Basically the way it works is that if you lose a case you pay all legal expenses, including lawyers fees, for both sides. The idea is that the cost of losing a lawsuit would curb the out of control shakedown type lawsuits. It may even get rid of the ambulance chasers that advertise on TV that they can get you money even if your injuries are your fault. That's called a windfall in my book, a real two for one deal.

Some (mostly ambulance chasing lawyers) will argue that this sort of system would prevent people from getting their day in court, that it would discourage those who would file suit for compensation from "big money" corporations. I say, exactly, that's the point. But it would not prevent you from filing any lawsuits you like, it would just penalize you severely for bringing a suit that has no merit. Attorneys would have to advise their clients against lawsuits if they had no chance of winning, most of which are currently settled out of court to prevent large legal bills.

One of the opponents brought up Kelo VS New London, pointing out that the people who brought suit would have been liable for legal fees for the whole thing. To which I say, they were losing their houses anyway, they had plenty of reason to fight it, nothing more to lose and everything to gain. My heart goes out to those people, I think that the city of New London was evil to condemn their property and that the courts decided wrongly in their case. They had every chance of winning, and in my opinion should have done so, and any lawyer would have told them the same thing. They are already stuck for legal fees, and they are still losing their houses. The only positive thing that I can see about the outcome is that many states are taking a good hard look at their own eminent domain legislation, which is all to the good.

On a related note, BB&T bank will refuse to deal with you if you plan to build anything on land seized through eminent domain. Now if only we could get them on the right side of the firearms issue. But I digress.

If the defendants were relieved of the burden of the cost of nuisance lawsuits, these lawsuits would dry up. However, if there were legitimate complaints, the award would be more because the legal fees would not come out of the settlement. Win-win, as far as I'm concerned. Except for the attorneys, of course, but they have nothing to complain about since they would get their fees. This may also bring the abuse of class action lawsuits under control as well.

By the way, if you are involved in a class action lawsuit, you are stupid. Half the money goes to the lawyers, the other half gets distributed among the plaintiffs. Most of these multi-million dollar settlements have a million or more plaintiffs, so after the attorneys get their multi-million dollar fees you might be lucky to see a couple of hundred bucks. Just saying. And I moderate my comments, so save me the trouble of deleting your hate mail, stupid.

The best thing about the loser pays system is that it would free up the courts to deal with real issues that get put on back burners due to courts being overcrowded. Just as with other issues, this solution is not perfect. I just think it's better.

There are not currently any bills to this effect in any legislature that I am aware of, either state or federal.

16 January 2007

America The Beautiful

It's so easy to get swallowed up with the doom and negativity, but once in a while I believe it's necessary to step back and take a good long look at this thing we call America, at what we believe in, and in what makes this country great. I'd like to take the opportunity to do so now.

I have traveled the world in the employ of Uncle Sam, and I have seen many places and things. I have seen the great Pyramids at Giza, and have gazed upon the Garden of Gesthemane. I have spied the wonders of ancient Rome and beheld the temples of ancient Greece. I have toured castles in France and towers in London. And after all my travels, my thoughts were always on this shining place, this place I call home, America.

America was born in bloodshed and rebellion, led by traitors to the English crown, and largely unsupported by the general populace who mostly wanted to be left alone to live their lives the way they saw fit. Thanks to those revolutionaries we have that chance, something that I'm sure their contemporaries failed to see at the time.

America's bid for independence came at a fortuitous time in world history. The British were mostly occupied by their ongoing struggle with France, and France was all too happy to lend a hand to the nascent American state, if for no other reason than to poke Britain in the eye. Otherwise engaged, Britain's attempt to hold it's American colonies was half-hearted at best, and when the struggle with the French was temporarily over and they could turn their full attention on the American problem the political situation in Britain was not supportive of the effort. So, the Americans were allowed to have their independence, and Britain was saved the time and treasure that would have been required to hold them while at the same time maintaining favorable trade relations with the new nation.

The war of 1812 was the Revolutionary War all over again as America protested the British impressment of American seamen during their build-up for yet another war with the French. Once more, preoccupied with the French, they had neither the time nor the inclination to deal with the Americans other than disabusing them of their intent to incorporate Canada into the new American union. American seamanship was proven to be effective on the high seas in single combat (the British Admiralty was forced to issue orders to British warships to avoid contact with American warships unless they had a numerically superior advantage in guns or ships), but they were less effective on the Great Lakes, and the Army was not yet the professional fighting force that the British were. That would soon change under the leadership of "Fuss and Feathers" Winfred Scott, and the American Navy would also grow into a premier seagoing power in the post war years under the professional guidance of Benjamin Stoddart.

As American military power matured and strengthened, so too did the desire of every American to live peaceably with his fellow man. There was more money to be made in trade than in warfare after all, and we had an entire continent to explore. And explore we did, until the American nation stretched from sea to shining sea. We did not seek greatness, but we did not turn away from the challenge when it was thrust upon us in the years following WW2 either. We strove in all things to show ourselves to be the best friend and the worst enemy that another nation could have. We have made our mistakes to be sure, but through it all we have maintained that which made us ourselves.

We have always given a nod to the European system, but maintained our own way of doing things. This is, I believe, our strength; that we would chart new territory and avoid the pitfalls of the past. It hasn't always worked out as we planned, but by and large I think it's the best possible thing we could have done. In my opinion we would be best served to continue along this path, eschewing the temptation to succumb to socialistic solutions to domestic ills. All over Europe at this time socialist systems are collapsing under their own great weight, and in this country the struggle is on between those who would try these same failed systems in this country and those who would oppose them, instead relying on American solutions to American problems.

Our rebellious Founding Fathers believed that we could forge a new nation out of the fire and smoke of bloodshed and rebellion, and they were right. They believed that the essential desire of every man was to know the sweet taste of freedom, and they were right. They believed that to make a man truly free, it was necessary to make him responsible for his own future and his own well being, and they were right. Fortune favors the bold, the saying goes, and in America we have been blessed to have the very boldest. We have had those bold men because we have had the system that allows boldness, where success is rewarded handsomely and the prize is available to all who believe in themselves.

Not for the weak or indecisive is America, opportunity knocks but it won't break the door in. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch, we say, and here the words are not just empty platitudes but plain fact. Winners never quit, and quitters never win, if you don't play you can't win, the only way to fail is to not try. Slogans of a huckster, but also the instincts of a free soul.

America has touched the world, not so much with it's military might (although that has been international as well) as with it's economic engine, and for almost a century now the world's economy has hinged upon our own. Harley Davidson and Coca Cola are international symbols, uniquely American but recognized worldwide. One day we may very well look back and say, ah those were the good old days, but for now American knowledge and American ingenuity leads the way. We may not come up with all the ideas, but we are very good at turning ideas into glass and steel. We excel at taking ideas and making them work.

We did not invent the idea of an airplane, we made it work. We did not invent the idea of a motorcar, we made it work, and at a price affordable to the common man. We did not invent railroads or steam locomotives, we made them work to pull the train of innovation. Many of our best ideas and inventors have come from overseas, seeking the clean air of a free market, and they found it here. Names like Tesla and Sikorsky have found (and sometimes lost) fame and fortune here, men who came from other countries but made America their own.

I believe that the America of that glorious past still lives today. Scratch her tarnished surface and you still find the gleam of pure gold. Here, in this place, you can do and be anything that you have the courage and conviction to be. Here, in this place, a poor boy from a broken home can rise to be President and leader of the free world. Here, in this place, a man can work from poverty to riches on the fruit of his labor, on the strength of his ideals, and on the merit of his abilities. It doesn't matter, here, in this place, who you were born or where you started, you are the master of your own destiny and the captain of your own ship of fate. Here, in this place, anything is possible.

That is what America means to me.

Who To Believe

I caught this thread on Ace of Spades and found it quite interesting.

Pamela Hess, reporter for API, was on CNN along with Martha Raddatz, White House correspondent for ABC News and Steve Roberts, professor of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University and former correspondent for "The New York Times" discussing the present situation in Iraq. She hit the nail squarely with her observation that "we're getting distracted by the shiny political knife fight", adding the question that should be on everyone's lips: "If we lose, how are we going to mitigate the consequences of this?"

How indeed? She goes on to point out that "it seems that if as a reporter you do ask the national security question, all of a sudden you're carrying Bush's water. There are national security questions at stake, and we're ignoring them and the country is getting screwed."

Steve Roberts responded with "I think still in the press corps there's a sense of failure having in the early days of the war not revealed and not been able to call to account an administration which we now know was fabricating intelligence, was wrong on weapons of mass destruction, wrong on the presence of al Qaeda. There is a sense of failure in the press corps for having not been tough enough then. I think they're making up for it."

Maybe it's my faulty memory, but I seem to remember reports of quagmire and troops being bogged down from the beginning. The failures in the early days of the war were not failures of reporting, but failure to report failures. Mostly because there weren't many. But let's take Mr. Roberts's accusations one at a time.

Fabricating intelligence? Not so, President Bush was relying on intelligence found from several sources, including foreign intelligence services - mostly French and British. Wrong on weapons of mass destruction? While it's true that we haven't found completed multiple nuclear warheads strapped to the tops of ICBM's with Washington DC co-ordinates programmed into their GPS guidance systems, what we have found is proof enough that Saddam not only had WMD's, but fully intended to restart his programs when the UN could be safely shooed out of the way. Wrong on the connections between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's Iraq? How do you account for the 9-11 Commision's reports that say otherwise? The commission said that while they could find no evidence to suggest that Saddam had anything to do with the 9-11 attacks, the connections between Iraq and Al Qaeda were many and irrefutable.

The truth of the matter is that the press in this country is made up of mostly Democrats who are enamored of the Watergate era and strive mightily to come up with something of the same line that can drag down another President and garner prizes and accolades from their professional colleagues. They care little to nothing about actual reporting for truth's sake, but rather they are intent on giving us what facts they want us to have as well as telling us what we should think about it. This is why alternate outlets such as Fox News, the Drudge Report, and the blogosphere have become so important to newshounds that are looking for both sides of the story. This is also why the traditional media has seen their marketshare decline. However, they seem to not be able to see this for themselves, instead choosing to attack the alternates and "rage against the dying of the light", so to speak.

If I could find all these sources buttressing the President's position in a few hours of Googlebombing, surely Tony Snow and his crack team of professionals could find truckloads of evidence to the same effect. The fact that this does not happen is both annoying and mystifying, to me at least.

But at least the Pentagon gets it.

15 January 2007

Color Me Shameless

The Weasel Watcher has just emailed me to remind me of the perpetual "link whorage" offer. To be sure, I have not forgotten this kind offer, I had just not written anything lately that I considered Watcher material. But, opportunity knocks, and I will answer the door.

As you may or may not already be aware, members of the Watcher's Council hold a vote every week on what they consider to be the most link-worthy pieces of writing around... per the Watcher's instructions, I am submitting one of my own posts for consideration in the upcoming nominations process.

Here is the most recent winning council post, here is the most recent winning non-council post, here is the list of results for the latest vote, and here is the initial posting of all the nominees that were voted on.

Submitted for your approval, my post Death And Taxes.

UPDATE 19 January: Well, I didn't get a single vote this time, but I'll try again next week. I think I may have a winner. We will see.


I see that it's been a little over a week since I last posted. No reason for it really, I just haven't found anything that's caught my interest. But, since you asked so nicely, I'm just super, thanks for asking.

There was a bit of furor this past week at the Refuge, it seems that my company-sponsored health care plan didn't follow me into the new year. A few phone calls and emails, and just as mysteriously as it was gone, it's back. No explanations, no returned calls, but since I haven't been back to work yet I can't say there's been no emails. For next year I guess the rule will be not to get sick in January.

This actually leads in quite nicely to the subject at hand, which would be Universal Health Care. The Democrats are already warming up their socialist agenda, so it can't be too far behind. It started out with the bump in minimum wage for everyone except American Samoans (if you can't figure out why that was a Bad Idea, I don't have the patience to explain it to you), but since Madame Hillary has already hoed that row, and since she's bucking for Senior President instead of Co-President, you know it's on it's way. If you think a doctor's visit is expensive now...

This in turn leads into an article on The New Republic by Jonathan Cohn about the Danish welfare state. It's a subscription-required link, which I don't have, but the article is summed up nicely by Mr Cohn's very own statement, "It is entirely possible to have a large welfare state, with generous benefits, without choking the economy." Hogwash.

I won't spend time raking the article, since more expert people than I have already done so. In an article written by former Dane Henrik Rasmussen, it is pointed out that the Danish poor make about as much money as their American counterparts, but from there up the comparison is pretty bleak for the Danes. If you are good at figures, take a look at this; the lowest tax rate for the Danes is 39 percent (as compared to 15 percent here) with the marginal rate of sixty percent. Add to that an 8 percent "labor market support" tax and a 25 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) and you get a low end of 72 percent. That's what the Danish poor people pay for their generous benefits. The rich pay in the 90's (according to His Excellency, 93 percent). But remember, all this government generosity is FREE!

Kind of gives you a different way of looking at FICA, doesn't it?

So how do we avoid that kind of killer kindness from our own whip-holders? By getting on the phone, sending letters, and sending emails, to urge our congresscritters and Senators to support the Fair Tax, bills HR25 and SR25. It won't cut funding off to the gubmint, but it will show us, as a separate line item on our receipts, just how much we are paying for the privilege of being governed.

Robert Heinlein was fond of the saying "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." We would do well to remember that.
"The Doctor" by Luke Fildes

06 January 2007

Barbarians At The Gates

This is the greatest country in the world. No doubt the British thought the same of Britain in the last century, no doubt ancient Romans thought the same about Rome, no doubt the Athenians thought the same of the city state of Athens. Each was right in his day. This is America's time, and now this is the greatest country in the world.

Other scribes and scribblers spoke tales of woe about Athens, about Rome, about Britain, all while at the height of their powers. Today some do the same about America. The sad truth is that the doomsayers will likely be proven right, given time. It is the nature of the world that one civilization comes to dominance and then falls, collapsing under it's own great weight, being replaced by another.

Today our future is foretold in the reluctance we show to protect our borders or use force. Two articles capture my attention in the writing of this screed. The first is here, a story about the National Guardsmen on our southern border. The other is here, a blog piece from The Yankee Sailor on nuclear deterrence in the age of terrorism.

In the first article is a story about four armed men coming over the Mexican border, causing the National Guardsmen there to abandon their post. The Guardsmen were under orders to call for backup and retreat...excuse me, "advance to the rear", rather than engage.

The blog article discusses the role of deterrence in the Cold War, and how it's effectiveness as a strategy depended upon our mutual desire to keep our own skins in more or less one unscathed piece. The Yankee Sailor points out in this piece that before the Nuclear Age, the tactic of pre-emptive war was a common practice - do unto others before they get a chance to do unto you. Since the dawn of the nuclear era, however, the sheer frightfullness of these weapons make them unsuitable for such an option. The answer was Mutually Assured Destruction.

He further demonstrates that such a policy worked fine between powers that showed an equal reluctance to rely on these devastating weapons, but now that we have small states and rogue nations pursuing them the policy of MAD becomes mad indeed. For such a strategy to work you have to assume that the OPFOR has at least as much rationality as you yourself do. This is, sadly, not always the case in today's world. This calls for, at the very least, a shift in strategy.

Our battle against Islamic extremists has been called a "clash of cultures" and a "clash of civilizations". Others deny this is true, saying it is instead a clash of barbarians against civilization. If this is so, it is troubling for one very good reason. Civilization, by it's very nature, is reluctant to revert to uncivilized behavior. Barbarians, by their very nature, have no such compunction.

Historically, the barbarians always win.

02 January 2007

Promises, Promises

According to a story in the Washington Post, linked here from MSNBC, the Democrats have decided to shut Republicans out of the lawmaking process for the first 100 hours. The story reports that Democrats will use House rules to prevent Republicans from "offering alternative measures, assuring speedy passage of the bills and allowing their party to trumpet early victories." A few Democrats argued against such measures, but they were shut down. Democrat leaders (Pelosi and Hoyer) say they are "torn" between including Republicans and leaving them out to keep them from "derailing Democratic bills."

They claim that they will keep their promise to be bipartisan. Pelosi mouthpiece Brendan Daly says "The test is not the first 100 hours, the test is the first six months or the first year. We will do what we promised to do."

Ross K. Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University, says "I would like to think after 100 hours are over, the Democrats will adhere to their promise to make the system a little more equitable. But experience tells me it's really going to be casting against type."

I think this will probably backfire on the Democrats. Republicans still hold enough seats in the Senate to wield a little power, and with only 16 seats between the Democrats and Republicans, the majority is not enough to constitute "absolute power", regardless of what the article says. If, and admittedly this is a big if, the Republicans can stick together, they can have an impact on legislation, even in the first hundred hours.

Democrats acknowledge that this strategy might work against them. "We're going to make an impression one way or the other," said one Democratic leadership aide. "If it's not positive, we'll be out in two years."

So much for the big changes in Washington. For the past 12 years Democrats have screamed about Republican arrogance and heavy-handedness. And now they are going to do the same things.

Two sayings immediately spring to mind. The first is the old saw about being careful about what toes you step on today because they might be attached to the butt you have to kiss tomorrow. The second is what every kid says to themselves when their parents do something they don't like.

"I'm never going to do that to MY kids."

Happy New Year!